“To exist as a nation, prosper as a state, we must have trees.” — Theodore Roosevelt
Why Now is the Time to Act to Save the Urban Tree Canopy in Los Angeles
Updated Report, Summer 2018: In the growing push by cities to expand their tree canopies, Los Angeles is falling well behind. We now know that cities can fight climate change by nurturing an urban tree canopy. The canopy is a forest of trees equitably distributed that mitigate the urban heat-island effect, consume greenhouse gas emissions, reduce use of carbon-based fuels to cool homes, businesses and cars, absorb storm runoff through their root systems, revive the watershed, create habitat for important bird, animal and insect life, and even improve human mental and physical health.
Environmentally progressive cities such as Austin, Cleveland, Pasadena, Portland, Sacramento and Seattle have surged ahead to create extensive urban tree canopies. Pasadena, for example, protects 13 tree species. Los Angeles protects only four species.
Austin, Cleveland and Sacramento are among the many cities with a comprehensive Urban Forest Management Plan. Los Angeles has no such plan.
We recommend the following City of Los Angeles budget enhancements, explained in depth in this white paper:
- Increase the Urban Forestry division budget in the very next round to 1/2 of 1% of the budget, or about $40 million, doubling the resources from within a vast city budget that clearly has wiggle room. Typical best practices in sustainability leadership cities in the U.S. are to spend 1% of the budget on urban forestry. But 1/2 of 1% is a good start that would allow Los Angeles to almost immediately begin planting far more street trees, hire PhD level arborists, and ramp up to an Urban Forest Program 5-Year Plan that sets quantified tree canopy targets, identifies resources to meet them, and adopts best practices well underway in Sacramento, Cleveland, Washington DC, Portland, Austin and more than a dozen other tree sustainability leadership cities in the U.S.
- Of that $40 million budget, earmark the $3 million that is required to conduct the city’s long-overdue comprehensive Tree Inventory and assessment, without which no city, including L.A. can build a sensible Urban Forest Management Plan.
The 2018-19 budget proposed by the mayor assigned just $23 million to the Urban Forestry Division, or about 1/4 of 1% of the city budget of $9.9 billion. Seattle, Sacramento, San Francisco, and a plethora of cities fighting climate change spend fully 1% of their budgets on Urban Forestry, through General Fund or special taxes. This common metric among leadership cities MUST be taken seriously in arid, heat-island impacted and currently unsustainable Los Angeles, where tree canopy inequities will create known rising deaths. Next year, in 2019, 1% of the Los Angeles City Budget must go to trees.
Even as NASA studies our rising death rates in working-class and poor urban areas where the heat island effect (rising heat waves) is growing, L.A. in the spring /summer of 2018 has failed to seriously boost spending on its long underfunded Urban Forestry budget for tree planting.
To be in the realm of Best Practices in cities with effective sustainability programs, the Urban Forestry Division should be funded at about $90 million, or 1% of the budget. We believe $40 million is a good start.
While L.A. has an admirable “Sustainable City pLAn,” its too-modest urban forest goals are not based on best practices and earn bare mention in pLAn. Budgets for trees and parks have waxed and waned, major development is approved without green belts, open space is rezoned for building, tree destruction is allowed for sloppy “equipment staging” on a broad scale, sidewalk conflicts are resolved using misinformed10-year-old anti-tree practices, the siting of parks in congested communities has suffered repeated failures, and severe tree loss is now underway due to the shot hole borer beetle that arrived in L.A. from Southeast Asia.
In 2018, the No. 1 reason tree destruction permits are being granted in L.A. is temporary “equipment staging.” This is a sobering sign of L.A.’s worsening lag behind more than a dozen leadership cities who today significantly avoid tree destruction from equipment staging.
The Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering has yet to adopt the most fundamental practice in cities, of formally inventorying L.A. street trees — the first step in saving and expanding them through an Urban Forest Management Plan.
A modest effort by the mayor’s office is underway to determine how to go about creating and funding a Los Angeles Urban Forest Management Plan. It’s pace is far too slow and narrow, placing L.A. far behind Dallas, Austin, Atlanta, Portland, Cleveland and other leadership cities.
Each month that Urban Forestry’s budget remains too small to hire leading arborists at the PhD level to launch a reform program that would end L.A.’s continuing old-school tree-trimming practices and reaction mode to best practices, sustainability in L.A. becomes harder to achieve.
How L.A. Stacks Up Against Other U.S. Cities Using Urban Forestry as a Key Sustainability Tool
L.A. is well behind Washington D.C., Portland, Glendale, San Diego, Austin, Pittsburg, San Francisco, Sacramento and many others in rebuilding its urban forest. Researcher E. Gregory McPherson and others found in their 2008 Los Angeles 1-Million Tree Canopy Assessment, that just 21 percent of L.A. was at that time protected by tree canopy. Nine years later, MIT’s Treepedia platform, working together with the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities, studied L.A.’s street trees in 2017, and found a rapidly vanishing 15.3 percent canopy coverage.
L.A.’s city government is funding the planting of only about 15,000 trees annually, about the same as far, far smaller Charlotte, Sacramento, and Washington D.C.
Yet Los Angeles had a record $9.2 billion budget last year and has $9.9 billion this year.
Why, in post-Recession, booming L.A., is there is little money for reviving the increasingly crucial — to our health and to the city’s health — urban forest? About $5 million to $8 million per year flows in from city and state sources and is tapped by non-profit tree canopy efforts such as the LA Beautification Team, Los Angeles Conservation Corps and North East Trees. Some 10,000 of the 15,000 new trees are planted by residents.
Unlike New York, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Denver, Washington DC, Charlotte, Austin and Sacramento, L.A. has not funded a reliable method for managing their survival once planted. Recreation and Parks alone lost an estimated 14,000 trees by withholding water in L.A. parks during the drought, after Gov. Jerry Brown issued a short-sighted “no watering” policy that Brown regretted and rescinded too late. And neither the Urban Forestry Division nor the L.A. Department of Building and Safety has the budget to actually monitor and enforce the environmental law requiring developers to actually replace trees they destroy.
The environmental, health and equity implications of not investing in re-greening our urban tree canopy are serious for L.A., situated in an arid Mediterranean-like climate — not a desert — where trees can flourish and provide immeasurable human and environmental payoffs to rich and poor alike.
Sacramento, by example, has a city-owned water and power utility, SMUD, so committed to expanding Sacramento’s urban forest that it issued thermal readers so the public could compare the summertime surface heat of a sidewalk in full sun (115 degrees) to the same sidewalk five feet away, in the full shade of a tree (89 degrees).
L.A.’s vanishing and diseased urban tree canopy cries out for a commitment to systemic change, yet reform of our forestry practices is far out of reach at this time. The ebb and flow of election cycles should not affect the future of L.A.’s tree canopy. The city’s estimated 700,000 street trees, and 2 million privately owned trees, are infrastructure on par with the water system and the roads. Fighting greenhouse gas emissions, the heat-island effect, polluted storm runoff, the loss of shade, and the destruction of urban habitat, are no longer a debate.
They are a must.
How Did Los Angeles Fall So Far Behind these Much More Sustainable Cities?
Eleven years ago, with many cities awakening to the importance of the urban tree canopy, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sought to make L.A. a sustainability leader via his Million Trees Initiative, saying, “It’s about taking responsibility.” In the end, his administration planted an estimated 407,000 trees. But the program earned broad criticism when City Hall siphoned Million Trees money from highly effective planting programs operated by groups such as North East Trees, and the Million Trees Initiative earned further criticism when many trees died due to poor City Hall tree management that failed to assure their survival.
Los Angeles took another hit with the fall of the Urban Forestry Division in City Hall’s important political hierarchy, which led to Urban Forestry’s cultural shift from tree expansion to tree-trimming.
According to one respected City of Los Angeles outside tree advisor, once Urban Forestry was placed in a position beneath the Bureau of Street Services, it lost its “high profile to qualify for a more substantial budget.” Los Angeles is awash in old-school practices that world-class arborists have advised L.A. to halt, including highly destructive guesswork in choosing, siting and severely over-pruning L.A.’s public trees.
These practices, such as planting magnolias that were doomed to die, killed off large numbers of L.A. street and parkway trees. Nevertheless, scientists E. Gregory McPherson and Alissa Kendall reported in The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment their 2014 study showing that 91,000 trees planted during the flawed Million Trees effort will still provide major environmental cleansing for the city and its residents.
Beyond budget cuts and poor practices, the pre-Recession housing boom helped wipe out swaths of the Los Angeles tree canopy. A sobering 2017 study of single-family neighborhoods by the USC Spatial Sciences Institute shows that trees and other greenery were decimated in L.A. between 2000 and 2009, well before the five-year drought that began in 2012.
Trees and greenery were reduced between 14 and 55 percent in Los Angeles County single-family neighborhoods between 2000 and 2009, with the city of Los Angeles faring particularly poorly, according to Spatial Sciences Institute faculty members Su Jin Lee, Travis Longcore, and John P. Wilson, with Catherine Rich of The Urban Wildlands Group.
Even so, Los Angeles has allowed the tree canopy to suffer worse neglect in poor and working-class areas than in wealthier ones.
As KCET showed, in an interactive map based on U.S. Forest Service data, the general rule is that the poorer the Los Angeles City Council District, the greater its lack of shade trees. Recently, KCET’s drone survey showed Hancock Park with a 37 percent urban forest cover — while South L.A. has only 7 percent.
When the Great Recession hit L.A. hard in 2009, budget cuts dealt another blow to the Million Trees effort, and about 100 employees were lost from the Bureau of Street Services, which in turn severely reduced L.A.’s tree management efforts.
Elected in 2013, Mayor Garcetti ended the Million Trees program, replacing it with the non-profit “City Plants” — an effort to achieve less tree die-off, while expanding the urban forest. But L.A.’s tree canopy has fared little better, and it is not clear if the current approach substantially moves L.A. beyond the Million Trees experience.
As City Plant’s Elizabeth Skrzat explained to the Community Forest Advisory Committee (CFAC) meeting in October 2017, City Plants, with its limited budget, does not generally track the trees it gives out beyond a two-year check, thus it can’t verify if the trees are watered or how many live or die (the estimate cited is that up to 20% of these trees die). City Plants’ key method to find adopters at events of several hundred people, not a best practice for tree survival.
As L.A.’s boom roared back in 2013, it set off new urban forest destruction from development: New buildings allowed to the sidewalk, rezoning of open space, scorched-earth demolitions, created severe loss among our 2 million privately owned trees, as well as city street trees.
By 2014, with the drought wearing on, Los Angeles leaders began encouraging residents to tear out their lawns — and stop watering trees. An anti-drought rebate embraced by Mayor Garcetti and the City Council burned through millions of dollars in anti-drought funds, leaving some parts of L.A. with gravel yards that one drought-gardening expert called “inner-city Phoenix.” (LA Weekly: Turf Terminators Has Gotten Rich Turning Yards into Gravel.)
Adding to this picture, thousands of trees died, exacerbated by non-native insects and disease that preyed on weakened or water-hungry trees. Then, in 2015, the city settled a record-breaking $1.4 billion class-action lawsuit, filed on behalf of the city’s disabled, for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The suit was aimed at the city’s estimated 4,000 miles of broken, uneven sidewalks that presented obstacles for wheelchairs and other disabled access, often caused by the roots of the 700,000 city street trees and parkway trees.
In a November 2015 editorial, the Los Angeles Times warned, “The easiest and cheapest solution would be to chop them down, fix the sidewalks and plant some small, decorative species in the parkway…. it would be in line with the settlement, which puts the top priority on sidewalk safety, not preservation of the urban canopy. But it would be shortsighted.” (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-1116-sidewalks-20151116-story.html)
But that is where things are heading in Los Angeles in 2018.
L.A.’s Greatest Errors in Failing to Revive its Tree Canopy:
Rather than adopting best practices from Seattle and Portland — cities that know how to save both their sidewalks and the trees and have extensive, deeply researched booklets that spell out their tree-saving sidewalk procedures — Los Angeles is pursuing a plan in which the Urban Forestry Division and contractors will chop down many thousands of L.A.’s largest and oldest shade trees to even out the sidewalks.
At a recent meeting of CFAC, the forest advisory group to the City Council, leaders of Urban Forestry Division presented a plan for saving some of the trees from destruction — a plan so outdated that it is clear the Division has not done a best practices assessment and may not even understand what such an assessment looks like.
To comply with the lawsuit settlement, the city has launched “Safe Sidewalks LA” or the Sidewalk Repair Program. But the city failed to assess the massive tree destruction that the program would allow — prompting TreePeople and its partners to demand an Environmental Impact Report. (Public comment for the initial “EIR Scoping Period” ended Sept. 15, 2017).
TreePeople urged residents to write to their City Council members, advocating for a far more generous tree replacement ratio than 2-to-1; adoption of best practices in choosing and replanting the destroyed trees; on-site individual tree evaluation like Seattle’s program conducted by a certified arborist; and sustainable sidewalk designs such as “bioswales” that capture runoff that is then taken up and cleansed by trees.
Tree experts who testified to the city’s Community Forest Advisory Committee said an initial 4-to-1 tree replacement proposal for the sidewalk program, to make up for the unsustainable and profound shade and environmental benefits lost, had been reduced to 2-to-1 — insufficient to address long-term environmental damage and climate change impacts the tree destruction will incur.
According to TreePeople, 216 trees had been cut down as of early September 2017 under the “Safe Sidewalks LA” program that resulted from the sidewalk settlement. A few weeks later, in mid-October, the number had reached about 350 trees destroyed, according to the L.A. Urban Forestry Division.
Now, the number is far higher and lawsuits have been threatened. Many thousands of trees will be destroyed over several years — any street tree that pushes up a public sidewalk by more than 1/4-inch faces destruction. Communities from working-class Northeast L.A. to upscale Windsor Square have begun calling City Hall as prized heritage shade trees vanish overnight.
To avoid this potentially devastating destruction, Los Angeles must look to Seattle and Portland, which since 2015 have each followed a far more sustainable path — in Seattle the “Trees and Sidewalks Operations Plan” requires that an arborist and an engineer perform a joint “field review” of tree-versus-sidewalk conflicts, and then choose the best way to save every possible tree, even as they fix the sidewalks.
Meanwhile, a thousand paper cuts are killing L.A.’s urban forest: Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer rarely prosecutes illegal destruction of protected trees by developers and homeowners. The city generally fails to monitor the progress of its failing “tree replacement” law, which is defied by many builders – these deep flaws were not fixed with the City Council’s 2018 approval of an “in-lieu” tree replacement fee to developers. In many Community Plan areas, city requirements for a one-acre city park within 1/2 mile of every 1,000 residents is broadly failing. The City of Los Angeles does not abide by AB 283, the milestone California law pursued by the Hillside Federation and others that mandates the protection of significant native trees threatened by zone changes or construction on setbacks.
Just as with the Villaraigosa Era’s political appointees to the Board of Public Works, no current appointees to the Board of Public Works are leaders in environmental sustainability and the Board is not engaged in widely accepted tree canopy practices for sustainable infrastructure.
The California Department of Forestry has granted Los Angeles funds “to plan for a plan” — essentially, a needs assessment, now underway via City Plants, that will explain where Los Angeles’s urban forest program currently stands, and a reckoning of departmental resources.
Unfortunately, implementing of an Urban Forest Management Plan is being pushed down the road because Los Angeles hasn’t budgeted or obtained outside funding for, the $3 million required for a Comprehensive Tree inventory, the rfirst step to producing a modern Urban Tree Management Plan. A modest $430,000 was set aside to match with outside funds, but these funding streams will total about $1 million — falling far short of a best practices tree inventory.
Until the mayor and City Council commit to $3 million for a comprehensive iInventory, efforts to fight climate change and the worsening heat island effects and inequity that will soon affect who lives and dies during the worsening heat waves, Los Angeles will be a city stuck in another era.
Which Cities Should Los Angeles Emulate, To Save Its Life-Protecting Urban Forest?
If Los Angeles chooses to become a leader, other cities with respected urban forestry experts can show L.A. the way, including Melbourne AU, Portland, Austin, and even SMUD of Sacramento, whose officials say, “The best time to plant a shade tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is now.”
Universities across the U.S. stand ready with valuable research to aid lagging cities like Los Angeles. Treepedia, a research program at MIT, uses high-level digital science and Google Street View Panoramas to help city governments understand tree decimation and form policies to revive their urban forests.
MIT’s studies of 9 cities found only New York has a thinner street-tree canopy than L.A. Treepedia assigns a “Green View Index” of 13.5 % tree cover to New York, 15.2 % to L.A.
By contrast, MIT’s Green View Index shows that Sacramento, pop. 460,000 and hit hard by drought, with far more severe summer temperatures than L.A., has rebuilt an urban tree canopy with 64 percent more coverage than L.A. Tree People’s Edith de Guzman told KPCC in June of 2017 that L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, which is suffering significant tree loss, experiences 50 extreme heat days per year. JPL, Case Western Reserve University and University of Miami have predicted 1,500 deaths in LA per year by 2050 among young and old who can’t afford AC.
Sacramento’s canopy, in dire straits in the year 2000, now covers 23.6 percent of the city. The non-profit American Forests says that Sacramento’s utility, SMUD, plants 13,000 trees per year — almost as many trees as the entire City of Los Angeles manages to plant annually, about 15,000 or so.
The urban tree canopies measured by MIT’s Treepedia Project, starting with the most forested city and descending, are:
1. Vancouver: 25.9% tree canopy coverage; 2. Cambridge: 25.3% coverage; 3. Sacramento: 23.6 coverage%; 4. Seattle: 20% coverage; 5. Toronto: 19.5% coverage; 6. Miami: 19.4% coverage; 7. Boston: 18.2% coverage; 8. Los Angeles: 15.2% coverage; 9. New York: 13.5% coverage.
The U.S. Forest Service is pursuing innovations to help cities digitally document and re-green their urban forests through efforts such as the i-Tree tools to assess and manage urban forests. In 2011, the Forest Service and the New York Restoration Project launched the Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests Task Force, convening an intensive three-day meeting at which 25 experts issued Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests – A National Call to Action.
In its call to action, these experts agreed urban forests are “dynamic green infrastructure that provides cities and municipalities with environmental, economic, and social benefits.”
Without a change in course by Los Angeles City Planners, the mayor and City Council, to acknowledge and follow these leading cities nationally and globally, Los Angeles is set to become a hotter, less resilient, less sustainable city — and far more unhealthy city.
The underlying cause behind L.A.’s damaged sidewalks, the $1.4 billion ADA-related sidewalk settlement, the loss of thousands of trees and extensive shade, the continued mismanagement of tree-pruning and species selection, is a failure to reform and adopt best practices.
Facts from U.S. Cities Who Lead in Tree Sustainability:
In cities such as Cleveland and Austin, which Green Biz highlighted in a recent article, the dramatic impact trees have on environmental, financial and social health is well-documented.
In 2015, the Cleveland Tree Plan prepared by the Davey Resource Group (a private leader in the urban canopy movement) for the Cleveland Forest Coalition, suggested that Cleveland’s canopy provided Clevelanders with more than $28 million in “ecosystem services” per year.
The U.S. Forest Service’s i-Tree modeling program, and EPA’s Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program (BenMAP) show that Cleveland’s trees remove 830,000 lbs. of air pollution every year, cut energy costs to residents and business owners by $3.5 million every year, and over the lifetime of the city’s canopy will remove 1.3 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere.
In a strategic response to predicted canopy loss in Cleveland, the city created The Cleveland Tree Plan to rebuild Cleveland’s urban forest. (http://www.city.cleveland.oh.us/sites/default/files/forms_publications/ClevelandTreePlan.pdf)
Austin’s stunning urban forest of 33.8 million publicly and privately owned trees is estimated (PDF) to reduce annual residential energy costs by $18.9 million per year, store some 1.9 million tons of carbon that would have fed global warming, and reduce storm runoff by 65 million cubic feet annually, according to a report released in 2014
The non-profit American Forest launched Community ReLeaf in 2013 as a three-stage program, useable by any city, that combines assessments, strategic restoration and increased outreach and education. American Forests is working to help dramatically improve the urban forest canopy in avidly interested cities, including Austin, Asbury Park, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Hartford, Miami, Nashville, Oakland, Pasadena, and Washington, DC, and hopes to add 20 more major cities by 2020.
American Forests, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, has also named the 10 U.S. cities making the most progress in rescuing and expanding their tree canopies. They are: Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York, Portland, Sacramento, Seattle and Washington, D.C. All have implemented urban forest management plans — in sharp contrast to Los Angeles.
- Austin: Has a detailed Urban Forest Management Plan and an estimated 33.8 million public and privately owned trees that cover 30.8 percent of the city. Each year the urban forest reduces residential energy costs by an estimated $18.9 million per year.
- Charlotte: Has a strong, comprehensive Urban Forest Management Plan, tree ordinances designed to protect both public and private trees and a public-private initiative, TreesCharlotte, to plant trees on private property.
- Denver: Requires developers to diversify species during plantings, has developed city-wide planting and canopy goals, and keeps records of the age distribution of the tree canopy.
- Milwaukee: Its urban forest provides $15 million in stormwater savings and removes 496 tons of pollution annually. The city keeps a comprehensive inventory of its trees and has implemented a species diversification plan.
- Minneapolis: The city has a park every six blocks, a tree canopy with 31 percent coverage — just 6.5 percentage points shy of its potential of 37.5 percent — and was one of the first cities to use the U.S. Forest Service’s iTree assessment tool to determine the benefits of its urban forest.
- New York City: In 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bette Midler launched the New York Restoration Project, a 10-year effort to plant a million trees. The millionth tree was planted in October 2015, two years ahead of schedule.
- Portland: The tree canopy covers about 26 percent of this city of 1.4 million trees, including 218,610 street trees. Despite Portland’s dramatic population growth, under strong tree management plans species diversification, Portland’s canopy has increased slightly over 30 years. Anyone can nominate a “Heritage Tree” — mature trees protected by city code.
- Sacramento: Each year, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and a nonprofit work together to plant 13,000 trees on private property to provide shade and reduce energy demand. In 2016 the Sacramento City Council passed an ordinance to protect 25,000 trees and created a long-term plan for preserving 100,000 trees, including a funding source and regulations for planting new trees when older trees are removed.
- Seattle: Completed a U.S. Forest Service i-Tree analysis and Interactive Habitat Map, showing where trees can be planted and which species. In the 2016 update of Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan (General Plan) the city’s 30 percent tree canopy goal was retained, but city leaders, amidst a massive building boom, removed the longstanding “no net loss of canopy” goal. Neighborhood groups fear Seattle may slip backward. According to Trees of Seattle, the city has a 28 percent canopy, based on a LiDAR (light detection and ranging) study. Seattle has exceeded its urban forest targets in parks, natural areas, multi-family neighborhoods, and institutional areas.
- Washington, D.C.: Washington is attempting to reverse a historic decline of its forest canopy, planting more than 12,000 trees last year. According to Casey Tree, a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit committed to restoring, enhancing and protecting the tree canopy, the city has increased its canopy from 36 to 38 percent.
Cities with Laudable Urban Forest Management (NOTE: L.A. MAKES NONE OF THE LISTS)
- San Diego is a reasonable model for Los Angeles: A city of 1.5 million, with 372 square miles and a Mediterranean climate, it closely mimics L.A. In 2017, the San Diego City Council adopted an Urban Forestry Program Five-Year Plan that implements the requirements of the city’s General Plan and will increase its canopy, currently made up of 1 million trees, from 13 percent cover to 35 percent cover over two decades, meeting the city’s Climate Action Plan. San Diego got where it is by winning a 2013 CalFire grant to develop its Urban Forestry Five-Year P\lan and a 2015 CalFire grant to create its comprehensive Tree Inventory and Assessment. San Diego expects to complete its Urban Forest Master Plan in three years.
- Pittsburgh: The Forestry Division has been implementing a master plan for trees since late 2012. The 2011 Master Plan documented the structural value of the urban forest at more than $1 billion. According to My Treekeeper, the city has 40,033 public trees.(http://apps.pittsburghpa.gov/mayorpeduto/Executive_Order_Shade_Tree.pdf)
- Atlanta: The tree canopy covers 47.9 percent of the city according to an assessment released in 2014 by the Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission and Georgia Tech. Atlanta’s Tree Conservation Commission supports The Georgia Forestry Commission’s urban forestry model which attempts to place trees at the same level as other critical infrastructure elements like roads and utility lines.
- Pasadena: In 2015, the city launched its Urban Forestry Plan, one of the most intensive in Southern California. Pasadena protects 13 native trees under its Tree Protection Ordinance: Arroyo Willow, Black Cottonwood, California Alder, California Bay, California Buckeye, California Sycamore, California Walnut, Canyon Oak, Coast Live Oak, Cottonwood, Engelmann Oak, Scrub Oak and Valley Oak. In addition, the City Council created protections for 108 species including certain varieties of Maple, Pine, Palm, Cedar, Floss Silk, Fig, Gum, Walnut, Elm, Pine and Coral trees.
American Forests assessed Pasadena’s tree canopy in 2014 and found that Pasadena’s street trees alone had sequestered 65,960 tons of the greenhouse gas CO2. The replacement value of Pasadena’s street trees is more than $308 million.
Statewide in California: According to a report in 2016 from the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station, the canopies lining California streets, avenues and boulevards are worth about $1 billion in energy savings, carbon storage, removing air pollutants, increased property value and other benefits to cities and their residents.
The majority of California communities surveyed were over-reliant on a single species of tree, making their ecosystems vulnerable. The U.S. Forest Service report found 16 million vacant street tree sites in California where cities could add trees, many in Los Angeles. Assuming that 50% of these sites are readily plantable, California could nearly double its street tree population.
What Los Angeles Must Do in 2018 and 2019:
Fixing our sidewalks must be done, but not at the expense of our tree canopy. The city’s lack of sidewalk maintenance and poor practices in tree husbandry are to blame. This failure, combined with weak Los Angeles policies governing mansionization, City Hall’s repeated approvals of developments without green belts, and consistent failure to police required replacement of destroyed trees, are hazardous to the tree canopy, as illustrated in the USC study referred to in this report.
Our city has lost time in failing to develop a robust tree canopy, leaving many poorer neighborhoods nearly denuded of trees — and sweltering.
The research is clear, that expanding the Los Angeles urban tree canopy is essential to adapting to climate change and diminishing the urban heat-island effect, thereby reducing energy consumption. Extensive research confirms that trees contribute dramatically to mental and physical health, and to a city’s economic and social vitality.
WE URGE THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES TO ADOPT THE FOLLOWING REFORMS:
- Increase the Urban Forestry Division 2019-2020 budget to 1/2 of 1% of the budget, or about $40 million, doubling the thin resources from a vast city budget that has wiggle room. This allows Los Angeles to almost immediately begin planting long-missing street trees, save dying public trees, hire PhD level arborists and ramp up to an Urban Forest Program 5-Year Plan that sets quantified canopy targets, identifies resources to meet them, and adopts best practices well underway in Sacramento, Cleveland, Washington DC, Portland, Austin and elsewhere — practices as basic as ending our incompetent trimming and incompetent tree species selection.
- Of the $40 million, budget $3 million to conduct the long-overdue comprehensive Tree Inventory and Assessment, without which L.A. cannot build a sensible Urban Forest Management Plan. City officials who claim there is a tree inventory are merely expressing their vast lack of knowledge about how many years Los Angeles lags behind the leadership cities.
- Give our urban forest canopy the stature of L.A.’s traditional infrastructure investments such as roads and sewers to protect this vital resource from ever-changing political administrations. Placing advanced-degree, leading arborists at the top of the Urban Forestry Division is key.
- Adopt a heritage tree protection ordinance that provides protections to large (shady) trees regardless of species, similar to ordinances in South Pasadena and dozens of leading cities around the world.
- Ensure, within the Urban Forest Element of the General Plan, that the renewed tree canopy is equitably distributed across city neighborhoods through the use of clear economic equity policies and specific, fully public, tree budgeting data.
- Include an Urban Forest Element in our General Plan Update — not as a lesser “chapter” placed under an Open Space Element or other Element.
About Coalition to Preserve LA:
Email: [email protected]
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Mission: “Coalition to Preserve L.A. is a citywide movement of concerned residents who believe in open government, people-oriented planning, equitable housing and environmental stewardship of Los Angeles through advocacy and empowering the community.”